Repetition as an artistic and aesthetic device

I’m obsessed with Rihanna’s new album “ANTI” and I’ve listened to it probably up to 30 times (probably more than) since it was released. In those more-than-thirty moments of repetition, I’ve been pleased to find out so much more about how my brain registers music and pattern in music. For one, I noticed that I expect verse one, the chorus, verse two, the chorus and one hook, then last chorus. No matter how the rhythm changes I expect that same structure-sadly.

Apart from the structure of the whole song, I  realized that my brain also registers repetition of words, and melodies. I think it’s quite ironic that the repeating of a word or line wakes my brain because so often- especially in this content crazed multimedia world- repetition is seen as the greatest recipe for boredom. In contrast to those thoughts, I was strongly drawn to Rihanna’s repetition of the word “Reflection” in her new song, Consideration.

I needed you to please give my reflection a break
From the face it’s seeing now
Ooh darling,
Would you mind giving my reflection a break
From the pain it’s feeling now?

Repetition sends a strong visual message because it uses the passing of time and the consistency of an image to prove a point. As the time passes, and the image is repeated, the viewer senses the author’s strong intention to fill the passing of time with the same image. It’s easily like those moments where people say something you think you heard (but you don’t want to hear) and they stand up, look you in the face and go “Yeah, you heard me!” In Rihanna’s case, the word “reflection” is presented as a visual image (ref: “face it’s seeing”) and then a feeling being (ref: “pain it’s feeling”) She sings the two parts in the same melody to emphasize how the dissonance between reflection and self can be blurred in her own world because of the way the audience (ref: “you”) chooses to assume ownership over that “reflection.” By singing both parts in the same melody yet different words, she is trying to say I can see how it can sound the same, or I know how you people think its the same, but if you listen to me ,closely, you will hear me tell you that it’s not!

But this is not (all) about Riri…

In Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, Lee uses the Americanah toys to emphasize repetition:Whether it’s the feeding of the “jolly nigga bank”, or the rolling eyes of the other toys, we see the movie time progress without a change in the nuance, speed or direction in which these toys move. We know that it is a repetition that is expected and Lee helps us realize just how much we expected it by shocking us with the scene where the jolly nigga bank feeds its own self with a speed and agency that even De La Crois is shocked by. One of Lee’s points is that these are objects that are programmed to create one consistent movement away from their original stillness either till they are turned off, or till they die. Though we don’t see the repetition of the frame in which the toys are presented, the toys in themselves are the embodiment of repetition.

Used in a world where a change of time is synonymous with a difference in activity/action, repetition is useful to keep the viewer dissatisfied but still anxious for the activity he/she has come to expect as a given with the passing of time. With that in mind, Repetition easily complicates the passing of time as a metaphysical thing that we cannot see but we know has passed. For instance, when watching a film that repeats the same moment consecutively, we understand that the moment remains the same but we also acknowledge that time has passed because the time is no longer 1pm but 1:01 or 1:05. Which brings me to my next question- can repetition then happen in a single time frame? Can we say that an image has been repeated if time has not passed. For instance, if we walk back and forth from a picture in a gallery, we do not say that the image has been repeated. However, if a director fills a 3 minute time slot by playing a one minute sequence, three times- back to back- we say that the scene has been repeated. Why?

Which then leads me to my major question- what is the difference between multiplicity and repetition?

Through many scenes, Lee shows that the inhumanity of the baseless two count repetition of Americanah toys (1-2/front-back/side-side) is exactly how the largely white world would prefer to categorize black bodies on and off the stage- as bodies that can be programmed, bought, turned on and turned off. In all this there is still a progression of time which is why I was shocked to see Lee challenge repetition with multiplicity in the scene where De La Crois goes to give an interview to the radio station.

 

Erasure- Bamboozled

In this scene, we see the bust of the radio host split into 2 and then the bust of De la Crois split into three sections. Time has not passed, but people are being repeated. In the multiplicity I assume that this split comes from the reflection of a mirror/a screen which the viewer cannot locate but can only assume is the reason for this split. Especially, through the way the “ON AIR” signal is flipped, we accept that Lee has turned the reflection to be a part of the character’s being that the viewer can experience. Usually, a relationship between a person and their reflection remains opposing- the person looks at their reflection from the end of the X plane to the other end of the X plane. However, the reflection rarely travels across the plane. This is why I’m always fascinated by shots of buildings close to rivers/lakes where directors show us the reflection of the building as it stands above the water and then-as if joined to the water/growing out of the water- we also see the building itself. However, in this picture, neither De La Crois or the radio host are reversed like a mirror would show. Though the sign is reversed, their positions remain the same , right below themselves. And also, the gaze of a person looking at his reflection is missing which then complicates the image and makes me wonder- who is looking into this mirror? who is holding this mirror? How is the mirror reflecting the world and how is it possible that the mirror is capable of reversing and reflecting the world accurately (so that we know it is a reflection) but cannot do the same for these bodies so that we can separate reflection from person? Also, in terms of a reflection, two is usually the ideal number we have for one person looking in and the reflection looking back, so De La Crois’ third reflection coming from? Why do both his reflections keep getting smaller as they blur into themselves, like they are drowning into each other?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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